PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party has dismissed as "outrageous and preposterous" the EU decision to link the lifting of sanctions on gold and diamond exports to the conduct of free and fair elections.
EU Ministers on Monday lifted an asset freeze and travel ban on 21 individuals out of 112 currently black-listed by the block in a move officials said was aimed at rewarding the country for progress made in coming up with a new constitution.
Zimbabwe will hold a constitutional referendum on March 16 with elections to choose a substantive government expected later in the year.
A call by Belgium to allow the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) to renew exports of gold and diamonds was however, rejected until at least one month after the conduct of free and fair elections later in the year.
Said UK Foreign Secretary William Hague: "We have shown by removing some individuals from the sanctions and travel ban that we will reward progress but also that we will keep certain measures in place including the listing of ZMDC for the duration of the coming election campaign.
"We want to see a properly conducted referendum and we want to see credible and properly conducted elections in Zimbabwe."
But Zanu PF rejected as unacceptable the partial lifting of sanctions the party blames for the country’s economic problems.
"Zanu PF will never accept any conditional removal of the illegal sanction or any self-serving initiatives meant to advance the economic interests of western nations," party spokesman Rugare Gumbo told the UK-based Telegraph newspaper.
"Lifting of the illegal sanctions must be unconditional and total."
Rights groups which claim abuses continue at Marange and that diamond proceeds were being diverted from government coffers were not impressed either.
Justice Zimbabwe, a campaign representing farmers seeking compensation for land acquired for resettlement, accused Hague of "throwing away years of coherent and credible British foreign policy".
"Mugabe has constantly failed to reform the economy and politics of Zimbabwe. His governing elite ensure that a small few become grotesquely wealthy and powerful, at the expense of the people and the rule of law," the group said in a statement.
"We believe today's decision to reward Mugabe in response to nothing will compound this behaviour."
"It's good news that sanctions against ZMDC will be maintained,” said Emily Armistead, a spokesman for the Global Witness human rights campaign. "However, the EU could have gone further to prevent diamond revenues funding Zanu PF security forces."